Fortitude in Work: Our Virtues (Series 03)

by Jul 6, 2021The Practice

“…whether it was kneeling on the floor for hours rearranging tiles to achieve the best layout design …..”
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[The following is an edited extract from a Talk I gave at the UAP-MCB District Chapter’s Built Environment Conference 2020 (Lecture Series 6) on the 2ND of February, Manila, Philippines, with the topic “Business Development Strategies For Architecture Firms: How To Sell Your Design Practice”.]

It’s easy to quit. And boy is it much more difficult to keep going when tough situations stand before us like an impenetrable wall. But it’s at this point that fortitude drives and success surfaces.

Fortitude allows one to conquer fear and face life’s trials and tribulations. Our strength of character and resilience provides momentum. We gain strength by practicing being strong.

Fortitude in the architectural profession manifests itself by the strength, as well as the resilience, we display and practice. It makes us overcome our natural tendencies of timidity and instead leads us to courageously work around overwhelming design impediments to move forward and succeed.

Architectural projects are always fraught with difficulty and there are no two ways about it. So architecture demands fortitude — an unyielding perseverance to keep at your craft regardless of the daily drama that surrounds you; fortitude – to get you to the threshold of control —control of your design, control of the details, control of the project.

In the practice of architecture, there’s always a lot of tension on many levels and there will be more frequently coming your way. So you have to navigate through it all without losing your mind but neither using perfectionism as your North Star.

“Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working.” – Anon

Because the virtue of fortitude has two acts – to attack (aggredi) which is no less characteristic than to endure (sustinere) – we reenergize and reinspirit; we create renewed endurance when our energy is drained and go the extra mile avoiding stifling our profession’s determination.

In one of my blog posts, I spoke about the Spanish Revival House project and how I secured it despite having a history of 4 previous architects before me. I later realized what happened to those previous consultants. They were lacking in fortitude.

The client’s conviction and anxiety over his new house was almost insurmountable. He was at the site almost every single day, weekdays and weekends, rain or shine. But he was always permeable to fresh and unique design ideas, witnessing the outcome of those designs as they evolved, promptly noting down his likes and dislikes and keeping a close watch at the fine detailing work which was a MUST.

And he expected me and my services to be at par with his fastidiousness. The site eventually became my drafting board as I revised designs and details on the spot to satisfy him.

Then there were those flurries of hair-trigger tempers to consider – mood swings, and the once-in-a-while disproportionate retributions. It is always bound to happen — when anger comes on at the drop of a pin due to multiple factors — stress, tension, burnout, being overwhelmed, or things just simply getting out of control. During those moments, you just have to fight the inner voice and tiptoe around on eggshells.

“As tides rise and fall, we must remain calm.”
– Ren Zhengfei

Be that as it may, eventually, I was happy to get into the dirt with him – whether it was kneeling on the floor for hours rearranging tiles to achieve the best layout design or climbing the exposed trusses to resolve ceiling design details.

We explored different design opportunities as they emerged and we worked real close with the artisans during finishing stages, working on site for a couple of hours every day. The gratifying result was that there were a lot of satisfying handmade experimental details that came out of those hands-on processes.

The client had an equal level of passion as I do with my architecture which made the project undertaking all the more challenging and interesting.

And before we knew it, after several months of hard-work, tempus fugit! And we have just completed not just a work of art but a piece of life.

Fortitude and compassion are inextricably linked. Where you can show yourself compassion, there you will also find your strength.

Funny but did you know that the literal meaning of compassion is “to suffer together.”

Those extra services rendered were worth it all. Because through my experience, without due fortitude, execution of the design is likely to result into fraught. You just have to keep reprising your role as the vigilante architect especially during construction stage. Otherwise, it will be leaving the results to the winds and like swerving your practice towards the edge of the precipice.

But through fortitude you closely monitor the flow of things and avoid any pernicious problems or foresee them before they occur. You can’t be lazy. Laziness does not exist. Without persistent effort, not much is gained.

There is this popular Latin phrase:-

“Per aspera ad astra”

meaning “through hardships to the stars”

Leadership, courage, patience, perseverance, and discipline – the hard virtuous, and coupled with the soft virtues of forgiveness, gratitude, and humility, are the qualities that architects with fortitude possess.

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